Book Report: Fooling Houdini

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t understand anyone who isn’t fascinated by magic - the act of your own brain deceiving you, the secret societies, code of conduct, storied lore, socially awkward young men - basically, it’s everything I love in one place. And the fact that I have no business and am not welcome in magic’s backrooms only makes it more alluring. In Fooling Houdini, Alex Stone does for magic what Susan Orlean did for orchids, Stefan Fatsis did for Scrabble and David Sedaris did for department store Santas.

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26 July 2012 ·

Book Report: The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning

The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrímur Helgason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Creed-loving Croatian hitman who prides himself on putting the victim first in professional killing, finds himself on the lam after a bad kill in New Jersey. He punches a stolen ticket to Reykjavik and finds himself in Iceland, a land long on daylight and short on guns. That is, his worst nightmare. Written by Iceland’s most famous contemporary writer, the author did an admirable job getting into the head of a Croatian soldier who survived a civil war. The anti-hero’s mishearing of the Icelandic language and his outsider’s perspective on this strange land set this book something apart from all of the other Nordic crime fiction on the shelves.

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23 June 2012 ·

Book Report: You’re Not Doing It Right

You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations

You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You don’t actually know anything about Michael Ian Black, but I do because I read this book. Yes, this book is “darkly hilarious” but it’s also darkly honest and darkly heartfelt. It’s not often that you hear a man, especially a man with such a well-defined public persona, talking honestly about marriage, depression, couples counseling and why he hates his baby. So it’s quite a parlor trick when you realize in the last chapter that the whole book has been a love letter to his wife the whole time. The joke is on us (and on fat Kevin Federline).

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4 June 2012 ·

Book Report: How to Be Black

How To Be Black

How To Be Black by Baratunde R. Thurston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent examination of race, specifically “blackness,” in 2012, with elements of satire and memoir. The content is thought-provoking, but highly approachable and the ever-charming Thurston is careful not to trigger defensive behavior from the white folk. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “How to be The Black Employee.” Thurston’s final chapter, “The Future of Blackness,” strikes the perfect balance of, “well, we’ve all had a few laughs here, but seriously folks…” In his Grand Unified Theory of Blackness Thurston particularly calls out the need for

1. New Black History: teach a more complete and honest history of black people and, thus, American in far more interesting ways

2. Distributed Struggle: spreading the burden of fighting oppression more broadly across society

3. The Center for Experimental Blackness: opening up the doors of blackness by passionately embracing the eclectic, the nonracial and whatever else suits your fancy

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24 April 2012 ·

Internet Book Report: The Lacuna

The Lacuna

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An ambitious but flawed historical novel. The book improves after a terribly awkward beginning. I wish Kingsolver hadn’t resorted to the device of trying to tell the story through “first hand documents.” I did enjoy the large section that deals with Trotsky’s exile in Mexico in the Rivera/Kahlo household.

Also, Frida Kahlo was kind of a bitch, apparently. No one tell Selma Hayek.

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10 April 2012 ·

Book Report: The Devil All The Time

The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very violent and very dark, this is not the kind of book you curl up with before bed. Pollock follows the busted citizens of a post-war no man’s land between Ohio and West Virginia. They’re all here: the preachers, the criminals, and the preacher-criminals and they’re all up to no good, or too dumb to know better. This book does for Appalachia what Cormac McCarthy’s mid-career novels did for the American West.

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18 February 2012 ·

Book Report

The Art of Fielding

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re going to spend 500+ pages with some fictional characters, you’d better like them. I very much like Henry Skrimshander and Owen Dunne. I even like Guert and Pella Affenlight. But I love baseball, and I fucking love Mike Schwartz.

I would like Mike Schwartz to be my boyfriend in both of the following scenarios:

1. I travel back in time and become the college co-ed I never was, taking personal satisfaction from washing the dishes in the overflowing sink of the kitchenette of Mike Schwartz’s off-campus apartment.

2. Mike Schwartz shows up on the doorstep of my real-life Brooklyn apartment with his creaky knees, widow’s peak and battle-worn self-awareness.

This novel puts some errors on the board in the final act, but I’m still calling it close to perfect. Baseball. Self-doubt. Codependency. And the simultaneous fear of failure and fear of success. Harpooners, you are skilled. We exhort you!

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28 October 2011 ·

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